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AI Can’t Replace Human Customer Service

Chatbots and AI tools

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools like chatbots are rising among the ranks of customer service “representatives.” But will they replace human customer service altogether? About 10 years ago we thought they would. Back in 2011, Gartner predicted that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their service interactions without human assistance. Now that we’ve reached that benchmark year, only about 15% of all customer service interactions are handled solely by AI.

The reality is, as customer experience company Genesys reports, 70% of consumers over the age of 45 prefer to speak to a human when contacting a business. And among all age groups, 91% of consumers believe a business should always provide a method to contact a real person. Plus, Forrester identifies emotion or how an experience makes a customer feel as the most influential driver of brand loyalty. Gleaning nonverbal cues like emotional insights isn’t a strong suit of AI (yet).

Treasure Data found similar results. AI-powered chat services can offer quicker turnaround for consumers, easy answers to more complex questions, and can even offer recommendations. But, according to the firm’s survey of 1,000 U.S. adults, only 1 in 5 respondents preferred electronic systems to human interaction. Those respondents told Treasure Data that human customer service representatives understand concerns better (72%) and they provide more thorough explanations (59%) than chatbots.

“There’s a place for AI and chatbots in customer service. They can manage easy-to-answer questions and give consumers valuable instant gratification. But a certain personal touch can’t be replaced. One-on-one interactions are critical in most consumer service engagements. Without it, dissatisfaction can escalate quickly,” says Claire Reese, The HT Group Vice President of Sales.

And then there’s the technical support staff that comes with adopting AI as a business function. Using advanced technology like chatbots for customer service requires technical mastery, as Voxgen CEO Kerry Robinson explains:

“The next time someone tells you their new cloud, chatbot, conversational AI technology is the answer to all of your problems, ask yourself, is your problem as simple as ‘map A to B’?  If not, then take a step back, and as Steve Job’s said: ‘start with the customer experience and work back to the technology,’” Robinson recommends, adding, “AI or Machine Learning might be the answer, but more often than not, you need a conversational AI design, and therefore a conversational designer, who can craft an experience that your customers will love.”

Has AI changed the way call centers and customer service teams are staffed? Absolutely. But has it—or will it—replace customer service reps altogether? Not at all.

“You need to determine how to balance the two; how to assemble support staff to build out the technology in addition to developing traditional customer service teams,” Reese recommends. “One does not replace the other.”


The HT Group fills roles in Temporary Staffing, Executive Search, Technical Recruiting, and Retained Search.

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